BARCELONA — Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) say they want to make Windows Phone 7 the most “operator friendly” OS in the smartphone industry. Can they do it without ruining the user experience for consumers?
Today, during Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, both he and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop — who left Microsoft for the job last summer — said that they planned to make WP7 the best operating system for operators, via their new partnership.
On one hand, that’s smart, because it’s operators who actually buy the most phones from Nokia (NYSE:NOK), and then re-sell them to consumers.
Nokia (NYSE:NOK) NEEDS carriers — especially in the U.S. — to feel a good reason to start buying, marketing, and promoting Nokia smartphones again. And Microsoft needs Nokia to sell a lot of Windows Phones to make their partnership a success. So both companies have an interest in making sure carriers are happy and excited about Windows Phone 7.
But it’s a slippery slope. Operators have proven themselves to be hostile to their customers over the years, particularly when it comes to the user experience on their phones.
Today, Google Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) and especially RIM (NASDAQ:RIMM) probably both think they currently offer the best platform for carriers. BlackBerry devices tend to use less data bandwidth, so RIM says that carriers love it. Meanwhile, carriers can highly customize Android, which they’re using to pre-load smartphones with “crapware,” strip away features, and lazily update the software on devices that have already been sold.
It’s different than the old days, when Verizon (NYSE:VZ) Wireless notoriously crippled Bluetooth on its phones, didn’t want customers having wi-fi devices, etc. But it’s nothing like the path that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) blazed, almost always putting the user experience first, and often saying the hell with how the carriers do things.
Why does it matter?
As consumers continue to do more with their phones, particularly smartphones, we think they will become more sensitive about operators getting in the way of their experience, and will increasingly use that as a factor in their purchasing decisions. (For various reasons, carriers may not realize this when it happens, though, which might not discourage them quickly enough.)
So it’s crucial to focus on what’s best for the people actually using Windows Phones — even though they’re not the ones placing bulk orders for millions at a time.
We think Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) realizes this, as it truly has made some really nice consumer features for Windows Phone 7 (and it’s working on more, such as the ability to use a WP7 device as a remote for Xbox/Kinect devices). This is one of the areas where Microsoft is really innovating, and it’s actually exciting to watch.
So let’s hope that Microsoft and Nokia were just pandering to their audience at Mobile World Congress — operator and device-maker execs — and are really serious about keeping a balance between what’s best for telcos and what’s best for consumers. That’s the only way Windows Phone 7 has a future.
Improve Your 2011 Financial Health: Join the winning team of stock pickers with Wall St. Cheat Sheet’s acclaimed premium newsletter >>